Every military spouse will tell you that something goes wrong when their spouse deploys. It’s an inevitability. It could be a major appliance breaking – say, an air conditioning unit during a heat wave in your third trimester of pregnancy. It could be a natural disaster – hello, hurricane season! You could have a baby while your husband is on the other side of the world (not a problem, exactly, but not ideal.) Or maybe a snake will take up residence in your living room. Who knows? The fact is we military spouses anticipate these kinds of issues so when they happen, we are somewhat prepared to handle them.
I’m pretty confident that no military spouse anticipated a global pandemic. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I most definitely was not prepared for this.
Let me back up. Nine months ago, I had my third baby, Kate. My husband, a Naval aviator, was at sea. He was able to return home the day before the birth and stay for a few days before returning to his squadron. My mom stayed a couple of weeks before returning to her home. And then I found myself alone with three kids – a 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and a newborn. I knew it was temporary – my husband would be returning in several weeks – but still, I cried the day my mom left. I wasn’t overwhelmed yet, but I knew I would be.
My first outing alone with all three was a weekend swim meet. It was a lovely Virginia summer day – about 95 degrees with 100% humidity. I schlepped a swim bag, diaper bag, cooler, stroller + car seat, beach chairs, and a TENT into the pool to set up camp for the morning. I gracelessly popped open the tent, placed the sleeping baby inside, and applied sunscreen to the older kids. I was trying to shove breakfast down their throats while figuring out their events when a woman I had never met, Monica, offered to help.
This woman, this saint, happened to be a postpartum nurse at the hospital I had just delivered Kate. Monica held and rocked Kate and even changed a blowout diaper so I could watch the older kids swim. Another friend loaned me money when I realized I had forgotten cash for the concession stand (because of course I did.) A few more friends watched my oldest when I had to take the baby home. This was the first instance my village rallied around me while my husband was gone, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
That summer and fall my friends and neighbors generously offered me help at every turn. And I readily accepted it. Here’s the thing – I am not a woman who needs to look like I have it all together. Nobody sees me and thinks, “Wow! How does she do it?” And that’s okay! I have three kids and I work from home and my husband is gone for weeks and months at a time. I shouldn’t have it all together! And while I accepted the much-needed offers of help – meals, childcare, snake removal, etc. – I always felt slightly uncomfortable doing so. After talking with many women about this, I know I’m not alone in my reluctance to accept help. We don’t want to seem needy; we don’t want to inconvenience anyone; we don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to be… human?
It sounds silly but it took practice for me to respond to offers of help with a resolute, “Yes. Thank you. I would appreciate that,” without hemming and hawing or promising to return the favor soon. It took even more practice (and a good dose of humility) to go ahead and ask for what I needed instead of waiting for someone to offer. I’m glad I honed those skills last year because they have been critical during quarantine.
We all have burdens to bear during this time. Every single one of us. Mine happens to be caring for three children, in isolation, solo. It ain’t great, folks. I don’t know that I have ever felt as isolated or lonely as I did those first few weeks of the lockdown. (Ironic, I know, since I was literally never alone.) But once again, my village showed up. I’ve been brought to tears many times at the numerous ways people have encouraged and supported me in whatever ways they can. And yes, I’ve had to swallow my pride and ask for help. Without my spouse or school or childcare, I can’t go to the grocery store, so I’ve asked people to shop for me when delivery falls through. I’ve asked for help fixing my daughter’s broken bike because… what’s an Allen Wrench? I’ve asked to borrow books for my son and I’ve asked women I’ve never met to arrange Zoom playdates with their daughters and mine. Some of these are big things, some are small, but they’re all necessary in these unprecedented times.
I hope I can help, too! I may not be able to cook a new mom a meal, but I can order delivery to her home. I can drop off flowers or treats to neighbors to try to brighten their day, because who couldn’t use a little cheer right now? And if a friend needs a mental health check, I can be available for a chat. If you’re reading this know you can reach out to me and I’ll gladly help in any way I can.
While some of us are starting to emerge from lockdowns, some of us are still in the thick of it. As we gradually adjust to our new normal, I hope we can all give ourselves some grace, swallow our pride, and admit when we need help – pandemic or not. It’s okay to ask, and it’s a blessing to receive.